At one point in his interview with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Fox News anchor Bret Baier said: “I have some more specific Benghazi questions. You may have imagined that.”
Good self-awareness right there on Baier’s part. Fox News has clawed away at every little aspect of the Benghazi story since four U.S. personnel were killed at a diplomatic post in the eastern Libyan city on Sept. 11, 2012. When Clinton committed to a tag-team interview with Baier and host Greta Van Susteren, she could well have supposed that all the questions would relate to Benghazi. “I know that you and your viewers have a lot of questions” regarding Benghazi, Clinton noted in the interview.
No bombshells came out of the Benghazi back-and-forth. As the sitdown unfolded, it became clear that both sides in this clash came impeccably prepared.
On the Fox News side, Baier was methodical and thoughtful in his questioning. He wanted to know where President Obama was on the night of the attacks (in the White House, said Clinton); he wanted to know if Clinton had spoken on the night of the attack with Charlene Lamb, the State Department official who was communicating by phone with people at the diplomatic compound (no, said Clinton); and he wanted to know about those durable talking points. Fox News commentators, among many others, have criticized the administration for not immediately and forcefully announcing that the attacks were terrorism at work, instead noting that an anti-Islam video appeared to have whipped up the crowds in Benghazi and elsewhere in the Middle East at the time. That interpretation turned out to be faulty.
So Baier asked Clinton whether she stood behind her congressional testimony in January 2013, when she said that she didn’t know of any reports that contradicted the video narrative, which then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice laid out on the Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, 2012.
Clinton wasn’t budging: “I do [stand by it], Bret. … This was the fog of war. You know, my own assessment careened from ‘The video had something to do with it’ to ‘The video had nothing to do with it.'”
Digging further on this time frame, Baier noted that a State Department official on Sept. 12, 2012, had told a Libyan official that Ansar al-Sharia, a group of Islamic extremists, had carried out the attacks. Baier asked, “So I guess the question is why is the State Department telling the Libyans … it was Ansar al-Sharia and yet telling the American people at the same time it was this video?”
Clinton responded with one of the less convincing answers of her media fortnight. She said that “you have to take both ideas at the same time,” that “there was a lot of information flowing around,” that “we were trying to sort things out … information kept changing.”
Then Baier said, “I heard your interview with Diane Sawyer. What exactly are you taking responsibility for?” At this point, the Erik Wemple Blog would like to stop and clarify that we have no evidence whatsoever that Baier asked that question because the Erik Wemple Blog suggested just such an inquiry in this post on the Sawyer interview: “Fox News, which interviews Clinton on June 17, might consider giving her a chance to clarify just what taking responsibility means.”
Clinton responded to Baier’s question like this: “I took responsibility for being at the head of the State Department at that time. Now, that doesn’t mean that I made every decision because I obviously did not. But it does mean that I feel very deeply and very personally about the losses that we incurred….And it also means that as a leader, I have a responsibility to try to figure out what happened and then to put into place changes that’ll prevent” a recurrence.
As Mediaite points out, some conservatives have expressed dismay that Baier and Van Susteren didn’t devise a sufficiently nasty gantlet for the former secretary of state. They shouldn’t be mad at Baier and Van Susteren, both of whom placed reasonable and well-researched questions before Clinton; they should be mad at the facts.